9 May 2017

Request for information about West Africa historic ‘woolen blankets’ from Mali and the ‘Niger Bend’ area, housed in UK museums.

This request is from Bernhard Gardi, a very well regarded West African textiles specialist from Basel, he is writing a book on woolen blankets from the ‘Niger Bend’ area, and seeking information about collections in the UK. His last book was "Woven Beauty", 2009.

Information about the book and the textiles.
The inspiration for the book is a set of tremendous images from Ghana showing woolen blankets from the Niger Belt in use in Akan society, taken by Michelle Gilbert also from Basel.

Bernhard is interested in all sub-Suharan wollen blankets, and in particular in ones from Mali called ‘kaasa’ blankets. In Ghana, the Akan society uses these blankets and call them ‘nsaa’. Until recently everybody thought these blankets were made of 'camel-hair'.

In UK collections they are often wrongly documented as ‘camel-hair blankets’, ‘Kano blankets’ or ‘blankets from the Hinterland’, and most were bought in Ghana, so could also be documented as Ghanaian, but they originate from Mali.

Bernhard would be very grateful if you could let him know if you have any Sub-Saharan blankets in your collection.  For more information and images Bernhard has produced a very good PP presentation that he can send to you to help you identify these textiles, here are his contact details: Bernhard Gardi bernhard.gardi@bluewin.ch  tel: 0041-61-271 43 83.

Here is some more information from Bernhard:
Most early woolen blankets from Mali were bought in Ghana and not in Mali. For the Akan society they are ritually important, but they don't really know for what reason anymore, only what comes from up north has a special ‘power’ for them. They were too numerous in Mali to awake any interest to the French. As they were rather rare and special and expensive in the south, Germans, Swiss and British bought them. In Anglophone museum collections or even in Anglophone dictionaries they go as 'camel-hair blankets', as 'Kano blankets', as 'blankets from the Hinterland' and the like. It is interesting to realize the cleavage between the two imperial policies, French and British. The British didn't care about the French territories and cultures - and vice versa. That's why the British Museum has very few Malian textiles. Claude Ardouin, in charge of the African collection (10, 15 years ago), tried to buy what he could get them. He did it through my old friend Kolado Cissé, still textile dealer in Bamako, ca. 66 years old by now.
There is a Mali-Ghana connection. Yes.

What about a Mali-Berber connection? Why are men weaving in West Africa and not women as it is the case in the Maghreb? Why do men in sub Saharan Africa weave on treadle looms and not on a vertical loom or on a ground loom as the Berbers do? So what about that famous trans Saharan trade? Such and other questions bother me.

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